Chased Away From Chhattisgarh, Are Maoists Shifting Base to MP?
In the last four months, the Madhya Pradesh police have killed five suspected Maoists in the state.
In what could signal an attempt to shift their base from Chhattisgarh, two suspected Maoists, including a woman, were gunned down by police in Madhya Pradesh’s Mandla district on the night of 12 February, where they had allegedly gone to recruit new members.
While the woman has been identified woman as Savita, three firearms, including a SLR, have been recovered from the duo so far.
According to police, they were associated to the Darekasa Dalam and the Malajkhand Dalam. Moreover, police say that both worked as area committee members and were carrying a combined bounty of Rs 28lakh on their heads in three states – Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Chhattisgarh.
Police say the two suspected Maoists were in the district – that shares its border with Chhattisgarh – to recruit new members. Nine other Maoists had reportedly accompanied them in a bid to regain control over a lost territory.
Four Months, Five Maoist Encounters
Interestingly, in the last four months alone, the Balaghat police have killed five suspected Maoists in Madhya Pradesh.
- The encounter of two suspected Maoists in MP’s Mandla comes after the Balaghat police had in December last year, encountered two female Maoists – Savitri alias Aayte (24) and Shobha (30) – in an overnight operation. The two were killed in the Borevan forest region, which about 55 km away from the district headquarters.
- Prior to this, another female Maoist of Chhattisgarh’s Bastar district – Sharda, associated with Katia-Mocha-Vistaar-Dalam – was gunned in Balaghat district on 4 November. She was carrying a cash reward of Rs 3 lakh on her head.
In addition to it, heavy crossfire had erupted between police and Maoists in Mandla district on the night of 28 January this year.
The fire-exchange took place in an area near the MP-Chhattisgarh border, which is reportedly used by the Maoists to cross over from one state to another. During that incident, the Maoists fled after 100 rounds of bullets were fired by both sides.
According to Madhya Pradesh police officials, Left-wing extremist elements are trying to reclaim the forest regions abutting Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh that were lost by them, owing to leadership disputes in the past.
Kanha-Bhoramdeo: The New Maoist Woods?
Speaking to The Quint, Balaghat Superintendent of Police Abhishek Tiwari, said new Maoist recruits are being sent to Balaghat and Mandla districts from southern regions, and that the numbers of the ultras in Balaghat have surged.
Moreover, police sources said, around 350 Maoists have been deployed in Balaghat to recruit new cadres and reclaim their lost region.
Constantly under the chase of Chhattisgarh Police and anti-Nalax squads, Maoists have been have strategically moving cadres into the core of Kanha National Park and Bhoramdeo Tiger Reserve.
Both Kanha and Bhoramdeo are interconnected through a thick patch of forests, located on the borders of Madhya Pradesh-Chhattisgarh.
According to an intelligence officer, since the Kanha-Bhoramdeo area is more difficult to navigate than the terrains of south Bastar, Maoists are using this to their advantage and rebuilding their military wing by recruiting new cadres.
“Several inputs suggest that a fraction of Battalion 1, the most dreaded battalion of CPI (Maoist), is active in the Kanha-Bhoramdeo division. The way their movement and presence has developed in the division, the chances of a big attack have become more imminent.”An intelligence officer.
The impenetrable forests patch of Kanha-Bhoramdeo-Amarkantak is inaccessible, offers a safe hideout for Maoists, and, is very scarcely policed.
Maoist Activity in Kanha-Bhoramdeo ‘Alarming’
In January 2021, PTI reported that over 100 Maoists had crossed over to Madhya Pradesh’s tribal-dominated areas of Mandla and Balaghat districts in the last few months.
Further, the documents found at the encounter site of Maoist Jamuna – aka Sagan Bai – in February 2019, indicated the setting-up of two area committees to focus on strengthening their presence in the new area and recruitment of locals.
Commenting on it, Balaghat SP Tiwari, said, “Earlier, they used the buffer zones of Kanha-Bhoramdeo as a passage to and from Chhattisgarh to MP, but now they have entered into the core parts of Kanha.”
“Maoist movement has increased in the region. To counter them, we are also strengthening our informants network to track them and counter the movement of insurgents.”Abhishek Tiwari, Balaghat SP
Since the creation of the Madhya Pradesh-Maharashtra-Chhattisgarh (MMC) zone in 2016-17, Maoists have been eyeing the uninhabited lands of Kanha-Bhoramdeo and districts situated at the tri-junction of MMC zone to strengthen their presence in the region.
CPI (Maoist) under the MMC zone has created two divisions with Kanha-Bhoramdeo (KB) being the latest.
Earlier, they had created Gondia-Rajnandgaon-Balaghat (GRB) to build a safe haven in the Maharashtra-Chhattisgarh border regions. It has also seen the presence of Vistar Dalam with a strength of over 200 Maoists in a bid to speed-up their expansion into the Kanha-Bhoramdeo division area and actively recruit new cadres.
“After being cornered and following the surrender of many Maoists leaders in Chhattisgarh, Maoists are looking for new grounds. They have infiltrated Kanha-Bhoramdeo area and have three area committees active in this part” said Shalabh Kumar Sinha, SP Kawardha, Chhattisgarh.
“The Maoist presence in KB division is alarming, we are working with MP Police and Forest Department as well to increase the patrolling in the core areas” he added.
How the Government is Reacting
The heightened presence of Maoists in the area has compelled the MP government to deploy six companies of reserved police force. This is in addition to the already posted CRPF battalion and MP police’s anti-Naxal wing, Hawk-force.
- As per officials, there are 6 Dalams (groups) already functional in Balaghat and Mandla districts and the KB division is rapidly leading the settlement and recruitment process.
- Cases of Maoist-police scuffles have become more frequent in the region. In September 2020, a Maoist leader Badal Singh Markam was arrested by the Balaghat police, leading to the retrieval of dumps of arms, ammunition, and essential items during his interrogation.
“The increased movement of top brass of CPI (Maoist) is evidence to the fact that Kanha-Bhoramdeo is becoming the new hub of Maoists,” said a local journalist.
When contacted, Yashpal Singh Rajput, SP Mandla of Madhya Pradesh said, “Members of Vistar Dalam (the platoon tasked to set-up the cadre in MMC zone’s KB division) along with five other dalams have made their way into the core area of the Kanha.”
However, “police, security personals, two CRPF companies have been deployed and four more are awaited. We are actively working on strengthening our grounds,” Rajput added.
A local journalist, on the condition of anonymity, said that “the issues of tribals are similar on both sides of the borders. Chhattisgarh and MP both share boundary, forest and issues common to the tribals”.
“The demand to implement sixth schedule, forest rights, and other pertinent needs are the key points being exploited by the Maoists to recruit new people in the tribal-dominated areas of Balaghat and Mandla. The recruitment drive on MP’s side is sparse as of now but, if the incursion rate isn’t tackled, it will increase significantly,” he added.
Alok Kumar, Principal Chief Conservator of Forest, wildlife, MP said, “We are cooperating with the police and security personals to free the region from Maoists."
(Kashif Kakvi is a Bhopal-based freelance journalist. He can be reached @KashifKakvi. Vishnukant Tiwari is a Raipur-based freelance journalist and writes on Chhattisgarh and can be reached @vishnukant_7)
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